Tuesday, March 31, 2015

And the balloons spun around and around and around with high-pitched screams.

Call to Worship For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. Colossians 1:20

Well, there was nothing peaceful about my classroom or the center patio yesterday when we poured out through the door with fishing line, balloons, meter sticks and scotch tape. And I felt all the teachers’ and monitors’ head-shaking pity, Doesn’t she know better?!?!?!?!?

And like I wrote my mom this morning, Mondays are often the worst days because the kids are coming off of a weekend of pain, anger, confusion, sleeplessness at home.

So just before I left yesterday, I shoved the tables around into a new, boring configuration and redid the class setup yet one more time last night, printing up the seating charts and inserting them into plastic page covers.

But what is most helpful, besides a wise pep talk with Nicole, is being reminded of what is true by ol’ Ann Voscamp as she is wandering the goat pastures outside of Bethlehem: Are our lives really bearing real fruit — or are we duct-taping on fruit to really impress others with our lives? 

We’d all sat with that here, shaken.

For weeks, we’ve all been shook with what Jesus said: “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.”

And it doesn’t make one iota of difference if you’re living in the middle of global war zones or some battle zone in your own church, community, kids or marriage — or if you’re fighting a battle inside yourself — you can either ruminate like a beast over the injustice of it all, till you feel some literal heartburn and the scorch of the whole thing searing off real layers of your soul — or you can plow the pain into purpose.

Where there’s conflict — we don’t have to condemn the other, we don’t have to curse the future, we don’t have to circumvent the circumstances.
Where there’s conflict, there’s an opportunity — to practice being like Christ.
The world would change if, like Jesus, we chose
a donkey over a steed,
a cross over a crown,
a palm branch over bitterness,
and grace over guilt.

And Carlos Azarte and the Kind Souls have a new song about injustice, and a sixteen-year-old black kid who was wrongly thrown into jail for most of his life accused of  setting the Pioneer Hotel fire. Yeah, the world is full of injustice. Even in the midst of glory-filled sunsets.

Yeah, the world is full of conflict.

And condemnation.

And circumstances.

And for this we have the cross and His reconciliation.


Contemplation All of our shortcomings related to Lent are but a microcosm of our ragged and duplicitous selves. We are far more sinful than anything we are willing to admit here. Indeed, far worse than we know or could even imagine. But the grace of God in Christ Jesus is far more lovely and powerful than we have ever dreamed.

Prayer: May I be filled with Your grace today, far more lovely and powerful than the world could ever dream.

Monday, March 30, 2015

for the LORD has spoken.

Call to Worship On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” Isaiah 25:6-9

Confession, O Lord. Lead us always to a deeper experience of your love. Enliven us by the familiar but always new story of shame and triumph, suffering and hope that this week reveals. Mold us to the ways of the Servant whose life we honor. In the name of Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Contemplation Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24 

We see this every year, all around us as the season of autumn approaches. The leaves change and the flowers fade as the cold grip of death takes hold of them yet again. Old things are dying to bring about new life. It is a strange cycle of mourning and rejoicing that makes up our days

We put to death our self-centeredness and we are raised to life in Jesus. We deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Death brings life.

Death could seem a looming and scary thing. But the love of God toward us in Christ compels us not to be afraid of death and what it will cost us. God held nothing back, but rather, gave up his own Son for us. Surely he will also return to us life abundantly. And that abundant life is this: gaining Jesus, being with and following him. The process of dying to ourselves and our own agenda and stuff helps us to locate our treasure (life, joy, purpose) in Jesus. Lent reminds us that true life is found in Jesus.

When the seed of God – Jesus – fell into the ground and died, he became not just our Creator but our Redeemer and our Seed of Life. As we die to ourselves we get more of Him and in turn more of who we are created to be. When you truly grasp the death of Jesus, when the truth and beauty of all that Jesus gave up for you sinks into your life, you will joyfully give up all you have and are to follow Him.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

So reflecting on this verse about dying and remaining alone and bearing much fruit, I absolutely get that deep breathe of standing on the edge before whispering, Not my will but your will be done.

And that little seed, just like an equally clueless little caterpillar, has no idea of the as-yet unmanifest beauty and delight that is in the mind of the loving Creator. And neither do I. But I am willing, dear LORD God.

Not just willing, but with great joy.

Take me, I’m yours.

This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

 Closing Prayer You are holy, O God of majesty, and blessed is Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. As one of us, He knew our joys and sorrows and our struggles with temptation. He was like us in every way except sin. In Him we see what you created us to be. Though blameless, He suffered willingly for our sin. Though innocent, He accepted death for the guilty. On the cross he offered Himself, a perfect sacrifice, for the life of the world. By His suffering and death, He freed us from sin and death. Risen from the grave, He leads us to the joy of new life. Through Christ, all glory and honor are Yours, almighty Father, with the Holy Spirit in the holy church, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Come in, come in. Please.

Call to Worship God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Psalm 46:1-2

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Contemplation No excuses, just full disclosure and ownership. No ritual ceremony, just impassioned prayer. This is what people do when they have come to the end of themselves. They bring absolutely nothing to the table, and count on God to be everything to them.

There was that moment when I fell on my knees in my heart, and with every bit of my lack of understanding, I invited Jesus to come in. I was five-years-old. And He came in. And nothing can change that.  But the process of conversion into being like Him is a step-by-step that we are to live with fear and trembling. Not a miserable fear and trembling, like how I feel on swaying bridges, but rather an honest and transparent, Man oh man, I need You.
Ann Voskamp suggests that we think of conversion as the outrageously hospitable love of God, an unendingly revolutionary process to which we submit ourselves anew every moment of every day.
This calls for renewed attentiveness to the minute particulars of our sweet old world we like to say God so loved.
For starters, this means being present enough to the stories of those who suffer for lack of love (and by “love” we mean all that makes for human thriving: enough food and clean water, shelter, good health care, education, safe and beautiful neighborhoods) to recognize Wisdom when she comes knocking on our door.
We look up a lot. We ask ourselves, “What are we missing? Who are we marginalizing when we say what we say? Are we using language of exclusion or embrace?”
We remember Jesus’ script flipping phrase, “You have heard it said, . . . but I say to you . . .” and have appropriated its spirit of reform for our own time to wonder more imaginatively how what was a concern to our people-loving Jesus in first-century Palestine might translate as walking justly, loving mercy, and living humbly in our own radioactive days.
And Ann also talks about Maya Angelou and how she dreamed up and embodied an artfully practiced subversive resistance even as the backs of hurting people are against the wall. And how she is like Jesus.
And in my other nicely neat and very clean world so long ago one of my students and I got to eat dinner with Maya Angelou at a little round table behind the stage curtain of Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona, and then she read Courtney’s poem out loud to a packed auditorium.

But now my world is full of kiddos who have their backs up against the wall…and every morning at 8:50 they line up and march into first period...the angry little boy who mutters how much he hates me and everyone else as he clings onto his stuffed animal and squeezes through his teeth, Miss, he won’t stop looking at me, or the tall gangly kid who wears exactly the same ripped and stained thing every single day and I have to hold my breath when I lean in close, and when I say, ”Three, two, one, respect,” which means be silent and look at the teacher, he always yells really loudly. And I really want to bring him home with me because sometimes he has the sweetest grin ever. And he can’t sit still. He just roams the class like one of those big cats at the zoo, back and forth, back and forth. And there is the little guy who only writes his first name of four letters on his paper and rocks in his chair with a big smile on his face. And the three boys in the back of the room who neatly grind through every assignment in soft voices. And the yeller with the cool braids who loves being in Nicole’s leadership class. And the girl with rollerskate shoes. And the girl who sneaks out lotions and lipstick whenever I turn my back, which is a lot. And of course Mustafa who loves to sharpen pencils, but he doesn’t really know how to use one. And somehow everyone gets to school too late for free breakfast so I have taken to bringing in granola bars.
I have a snippet of a story for each one of these thirty-four lives because we spent my first week taking standardized tests together.
Yesterday this nice lady came up to me and said she is the resource teacher and she was supposed to be in a class with me every day but she has been too busy filling out paperwork but she is going to start today. So I got to pick a period and this is it.
And as I soak in my new-every-morning-mercy, as I come before the One Who Sees in impassioned prayer, I am at the end of myself and my clever ideas that every single day I try and it doesn’t work so well. How do I get yet another angry kid to take down his brown hoodie and pull off his grey and black beanie every single morning as he walks into the class without it blowing up in my face? And do I choose my battles or deal with defiance?
And I got in trouble with the lady up at the front desk yesterday because I didn’t know what to do with two loud girls who walked in late and would not get out a pencil and Weather Packet and would not do anything but talk in pretty loud voices so I sent them to the office with an escort, and that is not what I was supposed to do.  Well, I sent one of them with an escort. The other one just marched out all by herself. And she just got back of in-home suspension for why I don’t know, but can only guess, so I pushed the wall button to announce to the monitor that she was out and about.
And during lunch I called four numbers yesterday on the contact list for a girl who looked me in the eye and said Fuck you Miss, when I asked her to move to the time out table, and finally an older sister answered the phone and she said that she would deal with it, and I wondered what that would look like.
What am I not seeing? Come in, come in, and give me renewed attentiveness to the minute particulars of our sweet old world we like to say God so loved.
And as the kids filed out of class yesterday, each one of them had to define one of the vocabulary words: air pressure, humidity, visibility or temperature. Really? Can that matter one tiny bit?
At least I have the walk humbly part down.
Every single day.
He is my refuge and my strength.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sweeping up busted pencils at the end of the day.

Call to Worship Sing praise to the LORD; proclaim to the peoples the things He has done. Psalm 9:11

After the first assembly’s cheering and hand waving, I returned to the classroom. Each student was supposed to trace their hand and answer the question: If people really knew me, they would know that… And there were the assortment of …my brother just go out of prison…my friends are my family…I am really nice inside… But the one that gripped me was…I am shy and so I am really lonely because I am shy.

And the girl is tall and awkward and lumpy and me in sixth grade.

And I knelt by her desk, where she sits by herself, and said, “I spent first grade on my teacher’s lap because I was so shy.”

And she answered, “My teacher had to pull me off screaming from my dad’s leg.”

And I told her, “Dear one, I will pray for you to find two great friends, who know you and care for you.” You only really need two good friends to make it through middle school. I didn’t even know you were supposed to have friends in middle school. I just survived.

And story after story stood up and told itself all that day and all the next. Of student after student who confessed to being angry and mean and hurtful and asking forgiveness. And stories of mothers being beaten in front of their eyes by boyfriends and of dad losing his job and living in their car for four months and of moving out of the group home back into a one-room apartment with seven brothers and sisters. And there were a lot of tears and hugs.

It doesn’t mean that all of the kiddos filed into the seats silently and reached into their backpacks to pull out a Weather Packet and a sharpened pencil, far from it, but deep cracks shot through the high walls built with pain and anger, and hope gleamed across the campus.

And one of my tiny robed refugees stood up on her chair yesterday, the one who use to strut into class with her phone pressed to her ear, breathing out threats and profanities to one and all, well, she stood up on her chair yesterday and yelled, “Hey, let’s get quiet. Let’s show some respect,” and I smiled.

Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of His praise to be heard; Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip. Psalm 66:7-8

Confession Merciful God, we have not loved you with all our heart and mind and strength and soul. Lord, have mercy. We have not loved our neighbors as you have taught us. Christ, have mercy. We are indifferent to the saving grace of your Word and life. Lord, have mercy. Forgive and heal us by your steadfast love made known to us in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And I am so, so, tired. Dear LORD, hold me up in Your arms. Do not allow my feet to slip. Let me not grow weary of doing good, let me not grow sharp-tempered or loud as I still try to figure out a way to quiet the class. I feel like I spend most of my day dealing with broken pencils and the ten-dollar sharpener I bought at Target doesn’t work but makes this high-pitched screeching sound.

I kind of shudder when Psalm 47 starts out Clap your hands, all peoples. Really, can’t we just put our heads down silently on our lab tables?

Lord, have mercy.

And yes, new every morning. New every morning, the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning, Great is Thy Faithfulness.

And as I paddled across Hillenbrand this morning, God reminded me once again of His steadfast love and neverending mercy. And I came up with yet another plan for herding cats. Yowling cats.

And once again, I hop into the car and head towards the Catalinas. I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence comest my strength. My strength comes from the LORD.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Look, the fields are white with the harvest.

Call to Worship The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes; he does not keep silence. Psalm 50:1-2

So Nicole was praying last night for our little school and our hurting and broken kiddos, and sort of panicking about presenting her anti-bulling, pro-kindness Rachel’s Challenge to a crammed-packed room everyone-is-required-to-attend talk at the neighboring Boys and Girls Club this morning at nine. And God told her to open up her Bible and that He was going to speak to her, and He did.

Listen to me, all you people! The Lord says, Don't be afraid! Don't be paralyzed by this mighty army! For the battle is not yours, but God's! But you will not need to fight! Take your places; stand quietly and see the incredible rescue operation God will perform for you. Don't be afraid or discouraged! Go out there tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!

Then King Jehoshaphat fell to the ground with his face to the earth, and all the people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem did the same, worshiping the Lord.

Out of Second Chronicles. Who ever shuts their eyes and opens up their Bible to Second Chronicles?

And God is at work. He is not silent.

Yesterday before school I was sort of panicking myself. It was the first day after Spring Break. Because I has these huge science packets I had let all the other teachers go in front of me with the printers, and now they were all jammed, so I was in my room trying to log onto the erratic district website, mull over brand new lesson plans by the next ten minutes and by the way, last night's  dreams had been filled with classroom management nightmares.

There was a tentative knock at the door and Mustafa, the Iraqi kid with the crushed red hot Cheetos from last week was peering around the corner.

“Miss, I didn’t get arrested.”

Wow. That is so cool, Mustafa.

“Miss, is there anything I can do to help you?”

Oh yeah there is. Hey Mustafa, will you be my special assistant? You will have to make great decisions because I am going to have you run my whole desk, take attendance, excuse people to go to the bathroom, distribute pencils and materials, and run the sharpener. Is that okay? And you will have to get all of your packet done too. But this will be great because today is going to be a crazy day with balloons and string and scotch tape.

“Oh yes, Miss.”

And so Mustafa, the little guy with straight F’s in all of his classes, went bustling off with a note from me to the office asking for a box of pencils, but of course because everyone down at the office knows him well, they sent another student back with the pencils. But man oh man was he happy sitting in my rolly chair with the stapler and colored pencils.

And God is at work. He is not silent.

And even though the other science teacher, the Gifted and Talented Student science teacher told me I was crazy to do balloons with my bunch of kids, I sent for the disciplinarian in the middle of fourth period, my most out-of-control period ever, not to grab a few kids and make a few phone calls home, but to let him see 35 kids doing science all at the same time. And things were indeed a little crazy, but all of my Somali and Syrian kids were kneeling on the floor with their stopwatches and string and tape and so, so happy. And they get to take the balloons home when the experiment is finished.

And the other science teacher came up to me in the afternoon and said she was thinking about my lesson and she decided that it was a great idea because obviously these kids can’t read about science so they need to do science.

And God is at work. He is not silent.

And Cate and Nicole had their best class ever yesterday, the first day of the Leadership class where they told all of the teachers to send them their worst students for the last period of the day. And even my yeller, the girl who walks into my class screaming profanities every single day, who the girl at her table told me yesterday, “Miss, that is the way she is. Her family is like that too. When I go over there all five of her brothers and her mom and her dad yell like that too,” even my yeller was silent and happy and smiley watching the French movie Emelie with subtitles about identity. And Cate, with all of the naughtiest boys in the entire school? Cate who has been teaching all of three weeks of her life? They were happy and quiet as gurgling clams.

And God is at work. He is not silent.

Stand back and you will be amazed.

And my meditation for the day was from Hildegard of Bingen, the great medieval abbess, who said We should be mirrors, mirroring God’s light and God’s love with great generosity everywhere we go. Love: love is of our essence.

Dear LORD, so be it.